How To Use Leading Lines

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Using leading lines in your photography can help create some dramatic and iconic imagery. Once you learn how to create these striking images, they can elevate your portfolio to new levels.

Leading lines are lines in an image that lead your eye to a certain point of interest or area of the photo. 

You can find leading lines everywhere, including roads, railway tracks, bridges, lighting, shadows, lines of trees, paths, corridors, steps, and patterns on the ground.

Once you realize what they are and start looking for them, you will see leading lines in nature, urban scenes, and during everyday life. Leading lines are often straight but can also be curvy. An example of curvy leading lines could be a coastline or small bay or on a winding road. Straight leading lines tend to be dramatic, striking and hard, while curvy leading lines are more gentle and soft. Either straight or curvy lines can be used to create distinct photos that wouldn't be given a second glance without them. 

Putting your main subject at the end of leading lines makes for a powerful image. Let's say you framed a couple walking down a long path. Naturally, the viewer's eye will follow the road, then focus on the people. Experiment with different viewpoints by getting low to the ground or taking a shot from above normal eye level. 

There are five main types of leading lines used in photography:

  • Vertical lines portray power, size, dominance and strength
  • Horizontal lines portray peace, distance, scale, and stability
  • Diagonal lines which can demonstrate movement and motion, and are often seen in urban scenes
  • Curved lines which are often seen in nature, such as rivers, coastlines and trees
  • Converging lines which often lead towards the horizon
Learning to recognize leading lines and using them to create imagery is a great skill for artists shooting any genre of photography. After a while, finding leading lines will become second nature to you. 
Once you can see them, it's time to work on your composition for the best effect. Use the leading lines to draw your viewer to the part of the image you want them to notice. You can also use them to distract your viewer from anything you don't want them focusing on. 
Leading lines have a natural starting point and ending point. They create flow in your image to take the viewer on a visual journey. They help add depth and dimension to an image, and make it overall more visually appealing and interesting. When you are considering how to use leading lines within your frame, look at them without your camera first, then through your viewfinder. Take your time to work out the most effective way to use them. Play around with composition and look at all the images carefully during the editing process. 
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When it comes to searching for leading lines, you can discover them all around you. Many photographers like to look for natural leading lines and man-made leading lines. In the city, it's easy to find man-made leading lines as almost everything has been constructed or made by humans. In rural areas, you can find natural leading lines easily in nature.

When you are ready to put your new understanding of leading lines into action, a wide-angle lens is best. When you have a broad area to play with, you can easily move your leading lines around inside the composition. You might have the leading line start at the bottom of your image and run all the way through the image. With a standard lens, you can also do this, but the effect is less dramatic. Also, using a wide-angle lens, you might have several sets of leading lines in view, such as a road running alongside a river. This will increase the impact and drama in your picture.
You might hear the term paths, which refers to a similar technique to leading lines. Paths lead the viewer's eyes to the horizon. Leading lines are different because they can take the viewer's attention to an area in another part of the image. For example, if you capture an image of a road that leads to the horizon, then that is the path technique. If you take a photo of the children walking down the road, that is the leading lines technique because the lines draw attention to the children in the image. 
Leading lines really can add a wow factor to your photography, so it's a great technique to master. Maybe you have been using them without realizing what they were, or perhaps this is a new composition technique you can try out next time you are shooting. We look forward to seeing your latest work featuring leading lines!

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